Buffalo Bills – Covered by Brett Krummenacker:
Key Pickups: QB – Kevin Kolb, DT – Alan Branch, C – Doug Legursky & LB – Manny Lawson
Key Losses: G – Andy Levitre (Titans), WR – David Nelson (Browns), DE – Kyle Moore (Bears), G – Chad Rinehart (Chargers)
Off-season: The Buffalo Bills had another head coaching change this off-season as they fired Chan Gailey on December 31, 2012. During their head coach search, instead of only considering cheap, no-name options, the Bills chose to hold interviews with then Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith. In the end, the Bills chose Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone who took over a team that was 3-9 and turned them into an 8-5 team that won the Pinstripe Bowl. The 8 wins were the most for the Orange since 2001. Marrone was also a former offensive line coach for the New York Jets and offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. Hoping to turn around the 22nd ranked defense (yards per game), Marrone brought in New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. During his four years in New York, Pettine helped the Jets rank 8th, 5th, 3rd and 1st in yards allowed per game. The Bills are hoping Marrone and Pettine can help the Bills end their 13 season playoff drought.
Draft: QB – E.J. Manuel (FSU), WR – Robert Woods (USC), LB – Kiko Alonso (Oregon), WR – Marquise Goodwin (Texas), S – Duke Williams (Nevada), S – Jonathan Meeks (Clemson), K – Dustin Hopkins (FSU) & TE – Chris Gragg (Arkansas) – Overall Grade: A
To me, the Bills had one of the best drafts this year. Not only did the Bills add their possible franchise quarterback in E.J. Manuel, but they also managed to add wide receiver Robert Woods and linebacker Kiko Alonso. I believe Manuel, Woods and Alonso will all start and see significant playing time during the 2013 season. Buffalo also added wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, defensive back Duke Williams, defensive back Jonathan Meeks, kicker Dustin Hopkins and tight end Chris Gragg.
Upcoming Season: By the end of the season, I believe the Bills will have a 7-9 record, but have a much more promising outlook for the 2014 NFL season. While Bills fans may be tired of always thinking about “next year”, I think E.J. Manuel will finally give the fans hope for the future. With Manuel starting all 16 games, he will have ups and downs like most rookies in the NFL. As Manuel goes, the team will go as well. However, his play will not yet be polished enough to lead the Bills into the playoffs. Instead, Manuel will show promise without winning enough games for the Bills. Manuel and the Bills should look towards 2014 as their breakout year.
The strength of this team should be the running game. Not only do the Bills have an explosive potential superstar in C.J. Spiller, but they also have Fred Jackson. Last season, the Bills averaged 24.31 rushing attempts per game. This year, as Marrone attempts to develop a rookie quarterback, I expect the team to average nearly 30 rushing attempts per game. The high number of attempts should benefit Spiller as he looks to become a Pro Bowler for the first time in his career (Spiller made the Pro Bowl last year but as an alternative to Ray Rice).
The defense has the potential to be great with the likes of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Alan Branch and Marcell Dareus anchoring the line. However, while I expect CB Stephon Gilmore to shine, I think the downfall of this defense will be the secondary. Gilmore will be a legitimate number-one cornerback, but the Bills still have question marks at the second cornerback position, as well as at both safety positions. The Bills’ sack numbers could be top-10 in the NFL, but I think their passing yards allowed will be in the bottom 10.
Surprising defensive player: Linebacker Kiko Alonso – I think Kiko Alonso is going to be one of the most surprising players of the 2013 NFL season, and will win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Yes, you read that right, second-round pick Kiko Alonso will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. This may sound crazy because he is not yet a household name, but Alonso has the tools to win the DROY. Plus, since 2000, the defensive rookie of the year has been a linebacker in 11 of those 13 seasons (the only two non-linebacker DROYs were Julius Pepper and Ndamukong Suh). Alonso will take over on a team that is desperate for a quality linebacker to emerge. I believe Alonso will finish the 2013 season with over 100 tackles for a defense that has a strong defensive line, but a weak linebacking corps.
Surprising offensive player: Tight end Scott Chandler – When you consider this team has offensive players like C.J Spiller, Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, E.J. Manuel and T.J. Graham, the selection of tight end Scott Chandler may be a bit shocking. However, word of camp so far has been that Chandler is looking a lot better this yea,r and a rookie quarterback is often happy to rely on his tight end. Chandler finished last year with 571 yards on 43 receptions. I believe Chandler will end with over 700 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.
Final Record: 7-9
Wins: vs Carolina, at New York Jets, at Cleveland, vs New York Jets, at Jacksonville, vs Miami, vs Kansas City
Losses: vs New England, vs Baltimore, vs Cincinnati, at Miami, at New Orleans, at Pittsburgh, vs Atlanta, at Tampa Bay, vs New England
Miami Dolphins- Covered by Tad Johnson
Key Pickups: WR – Mike Wallace, CB – Brent Grimes, TE – Dustin Keller, LB – Dannell Ellerbe,
Key Losses: RB – Reggie Bush (Lions), LT – Jake Long (Rams), LB – Karlos Dansby (Cardinals), CB – Sean Smith (Chiefs),
Off-Season: The Miami Dolphins had an off-season for the ages, spending monumental amounts of money on key free agents like Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, and Dannell Ellerbe. They made a big effort to give Ryan Tannehill targets by signing Wallace and Keller and re-signing Brian Hartline. Head coach Joe Philbin returns to a team that seems to be completely behind him (Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has stated in the past that Joe Philbin has all of the attributes that he was looking for in a head coach). Philbin claims that the Dolphins are a team with a “good nucleus to build around”, and it seems that with the signings the team made this year he plans on building around that nucleus and making Miami a contender. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who joined the team in 2012, will have a lot more pieces to play around with, with the signings of players like Dannell Ellerbe and their first-round draft pick, DE Dion Jordan. The Dolphins made a lot of great moves in the 2013 offseason that should benefit them greatly in this upcoming season.
Draft: DE – Dion Jordan (Oregon), CB – Jamar Taylor (Boise State), OT – Dallas Thomas (Tennessee), CB Will Davis – (Utah State), LB – Jelani Jenkins (Florida), TE – Dion Sims (Michigan State), RB – Mike Gillislee (Florida), K – Caleb Sturgis (Florida), DB Don Jones (Arkansas State)
Overall Grade- B+
Miami had a great draft this year. GM Jeff Ireland moved up nine spots to No. 3 and only surrendered the No. 12 and No. 42 selections in the process, selecting Dion Jordan in that spot, who is a great addition at DE. Miami had a huge concern at CB at the end of last season and the beginning of free agency, but they used their second pick on Jamar Taylor of Boise State and another on Utah State’s Will Davis. Those two picks (along with the addition of Brent Grimes in free agency) made one of Miami’s weakest areas one of their deepest. The other pick that I liked from Miami was the addition of K Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis was All-American at Florida and provides competition for veteran Dan Carpenter. Whether Sturgis will make the team or not remains to be seen, but competition never hurts.
Miami is in a good position right now in terms of the AFC East. The division is in a bit of a transitional period, with a lot of fans wondering if it’s time for a changing of the guard at the top of the standings. It seems like Miami’s brass saw this coming, too. That might be why they left no stone unturned in free agency and traded up in the draft to get their guy. They could see an opening and are willing to spend and take risks to take that top spot.
Expectations are high for the team this year, but the only thing that might hold them back is a brutal schedule outside their own division. Some of the tougher games include matchups against the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals. The only games I can see them being favorites for are against the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.
Ryan Tannehill comes into camp as the starting QB, but Miami also has one of the best backups in the game in Matt Moore. If Tannehill doesn’t have a good start in September, I highly doubt Joe Philbin will hesitate to replace him with Moore.
Wideout has to be one of Miami’s biggest strengths. With Mike Wallace joining the squad, Brian Hartline being re-signed, and Brandon Gibson looking to step his game up too, Ryan Tannehill is surrounded with talent.
At running back, I think the team is going to miss Reggie Bush’s dynamic running in 2013. After he jumped ship to Detroit, the starting running back role went to Lamar Miller. He will likely split time with Daniel Thomas, forming a good 1-2 punch for the offense.
On defense, the team will definitely benefit from a good draft. I expect Dion Jordan to come in at DE and immediately prove to Miami that he worth moving up for. The team did seem to focus on defense in this draft, other than picking up a tight end, kicker and a running back. Their defense should be much improved after a 2012 season that saw them ranked 27th in pass yards allowed and 28th in turnovers.
I do expect the team to turn itself around after a 7-9 season last year, but whether or not they can overtake the almighty Pats in the AFC East is yet to be determined.
Surprising defensive player: CB Jamar Taylor- Taylor was a second round pick, taken by the Dolphins at No. 53 overall this year. His experience in multiple formations and schemes at Boise State should make Taylor’s transition to the NFL much easier than that of the average rookie. Although he is mostly a man-coverage corner and Miami plays more of a zone coverage scheme, he worked at Boise as a press corner and in the zone as well. He’ll have time to develop behind and alongside Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall, which will only help him. I see Taylor as a standout corner in 2013.
Surprising offensive player: Brian Hartline – Hartline comes into 2013 with a fresh new five-year, $30.775 million deal. Without the thought of a new contract over his head, Hartline can focus on his game. Last year, he posted 74 catches for 1,083 yards, including a franchise record 253 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4. He kind of cooled off after that, but was still worthy of being noticed. This year, I think Hartline becomes Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target, especially with Dustin Keller now out for the season with a knee injury.
Final Record: 9-7
Wins: at Browns, vs Bills, vs Bengals, at Buccaneers, at Chargers, at Panthers, at New York, vs Patriots, vs Jets
Losses: at Colts, vs Falcons, at Saints, vs Ravens, at Steelers, at Patriots, at Bills
New England Patriots – covered by Austin Peat
Key Pickups: WR Danny Amendola, S Adrian Wilson, DT Tommy Kelly, RB LeGarrete Blount
Key Losses: WR Wes Welker, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Brandon Lloyd, RB Danny Woodhead, S Patrick Chung
Off-Season: Unlike most teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots didn’t undergo any changes in the front office or coaching staff during the off season. This may be the first time in Patriots franchise history that New England has kept the staff together for two consecutive years. This is an advantage, as the system will remain the same within the franchise that has turned over a new leaf concerning on-field personnel. All of the changes this off-season were involving the players. The Patriots allowed wide receiver Wes Welker to go to Denver. Wide-out Brandon Lloyd was released, and former Jets practice squad running back Danny Woodhead was released and signed by the Chargers. They also lost safety Patrick Chung. New England’s passing game, which heavily features the tight ends, took a big hit with the release of Aaron Hernandez, following news that he is the prime suspect in multiple murder cases. New England has gone through complete team overhauls in the past, and have been quite successful in doing so.
Draft: DE/LB Jamie Collins (Southern Mississippi), WR Aaron Dobson (Marshall), CB Logan Ryan (Rutgers), S Duron Harmon (Rutgers), WR Josh Boyce (Texas Christian), DE/OLB Michael Buchanan (Illinois), LB Steve Beauharnais (Rutgers) Overall Grade: B+
New England had a great draft class this year, addressing many needs while also giving many fans and NFL insiders something to scratch their heads about with some questionable selections. They definitely addressed some vacancies at WR with young aces Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Dobson is expected to start, granted he picks up on the playbook quickly. He is a big-bodied receiver with spectacular catching ability. His downside is that coming from a school like Marshall, he hasn’t been tested against top-tier corners. Boyce will provide competition for Dobson, as he brings speed and is a deep-ball threat. Not only can he beat you over the top, but is crisp at route running and can burn you in the short passing game. Safety Duron Harmon was the surprise selection from Belichick. His best trait has been his durability, as he played every game in his three-year career at Rutgers. Cornerback Logan Ryan was an excellent selection with great size and a no-fear mentality. He’ll sacrifice his body to break up a reception, and will also provide run support as he’s not afraid to tackle. Both Michael Buchanan and Steve Beauharnais are raw prospects with a lot of upside, but will start their rookie season as developmental talents with great potential.
Upcoming Season: Regardless of the large amount of player overturn, the Patriots are still the Patriots with strength-of-schedule in their favor within a weak division. They still have the two key pieces that make New England a constant threat: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
With their strength at running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is not missed with Stevan Ridley projected to blow up fantasy stats this year. Shane Vereen offers a change-of-pace option while allowing Ridley to not be overused, and Brandon Bolden provides excellent depth and lots of potential. New England also added LeGarrette Blount. With how stacked the Patriots are at running back, the amount of carries Blount will get is uncertain.
The passing game this year is going to be underestimated with rookies and few veterans within the New England system. Slater and Edelman are the only WR’s with some tenure there. Former Rams wide receiver Danny Ammendola will come in as the go-to receiver with lots to prove. His ability is not in question- however, his durability is. If he can stay healthy, the impact of losing Welker to Denver will not be felt. What also leaves the passing game in question is the loss of Hernandez along with the health issues of star tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England has a slew of other tight ends (Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells), but don’t expect them to play a similar role like that of Gronk or Hernandez. The Patriots will evolve and utilize the strengths of their talents rather than forcing something their players don’t possess.
The defense continues to improve each year, gaining chemistry and tenure within. The opposing quarterback is always going to be in the woods when you have Vince Wilfork eyeing you from the line of scrimmage. Both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are threats as well making the defensive line a headache for any offensive game plan against New England.
The biggest factor in the New England defense is the re-signing of CB Aqib Talib. He’s a shutdown corner in man to man coverage, and will be a force to be reckoned with opposite Devin McCourty. The main concern in defense will be the safety position with the loss of Patrick Chung. Steve Gregory is the veteran presence there, but there is a lot of raw talent and potential on the roster to compete with him.
The offensive line remains firm, providing Brady with time for a picnic in the pocket as he dissects and picks apart the opposing defense. Based off of Ridley’s numbers last year, the o-line is capable of much more than just pass protection. Defenses will have a hard time filling up the running lanes with this elite front line.
There will be more emphasis on the run game this season, as New England’s young receivers get acclimated to the offense. However, with Brady’s work ethic and leadership, it won’t be long into the season before the Patriots are dominating through the air, with receivers in sync and firing on all cylinders. I expect a lot of screen passes and yards after the catch in this year’s offense.
Surprising Defensive Player: LB Dont’a Hightower – I think the surprise on defense this year will be Hightower. Entering his second year, I expect him to have a breakout season. He recorded four sacks in his first season, and will only continue to elevate his game as well-rounded linebacker. New England has some other defensive prospects that could be surprises, but I think Hightower is primed and ready for a big season. If he improves from a solid rookie year, every quarterback in the league will know his name.
Surprising Offensive Player: WR Danny Amendola – I see Amendola as a Welker clone who hasn’t been able to put up the numbers he’s capable of due to injury in St. Louis. He knows he has a lot to prove, and needs to stay healthy if he intends on playing in this league. He is certainly focused on staying healthy and in shape, and has the advantage of a future Hall of Famer throwing him passes with precision. This is the year that Amendola will cement his place in the league and showcase exactly who he is and what he can bring to an NFL team. He’ll get his chance being the number one receiver for New England.
Final Record: 11-5
Wins: at Bills, vs. Jets, vs. Buccaneers, at Jets, vs. Dolphins, at Panthers, at Texans, vs. Browns, at Dolphins, at Ravens, vs. Bills
Losses: at Falcons, at Bengals, vs. Saints, vs. Steelers, vs. Broncos
New York Jets- covered by Arun Morace
Key Pickups: RB Chris Ivory, WR Braylon Edwards, G Willie Colon, G Stephen Peterman, TE Kellen Winslow, S Dawan Landry, OLB Antwan Barnes
Key Losses: CB Darrelle Revis, TE Dustin Keller, G Brandon Moore, S LaRon Landry
Off-season: The biggest change for the Jets this off-season did not come in the form of a player- it was in the front office. General manager Mike Tannenbaum was sent packing after seven years on the job and John Idzik, the former assistant general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, was brought in to replace him. Immediately, there was a noticeable change in philosophy for the Jets. Gone were the free-spending days of Tannenbaum, who seemed to enjoy doling out exorbitant contracts and using as few draft picks as possible. Instead, there came a more focused, judicious approach from Idzik, who cleared up cap space by releasing some of Tannenbaum’s costly additions, like veteran linebacker Bart Scott, and picked up a few select free agents at low cost.
Idzik also did a nice job eliminating distractions and hastening the Jets’ rebuilding project. QB Tim Tebow was cut after one year, having proven to be more of a media lightning rod than an impact football player. All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, seemingly always on the verge of a contract holdout, was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two draft picks, including a 2013 first-round pick (No. 13 overall). In short, this off-season was about erasing the mistakes of the past regime and trying to rebuild a once-contending team.
Draft: CB Dee Milliner (Alabama), DE/DT Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), QB Geno Smith (West Virginia), G Brian Winters (Kent State), OT Oday Aboushi (Virginia), OL/DL William Campbell (Michigan), FB Tommy Bohanon (Wake Forest).
Overall Grade: B
Just like the free agency process, this draft was all about erasing the mistakes of Mike Tannenbaum. Idzik replaced Revis with the draft’s best cornerback (Dee Milliner) at No. 9 overall. Four picks later, he killed two birds with one stone, by drafting Sheldon Richardson. Richardson will start at defensive end, and allow the Jets to shift 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples to outside linebacker, where he can better use his pass rushing skills. And, perhaps most importantly of all, the Jets may have found a way to move on from the Mark Sanchez debacle by drafting Geno Smith, arguably the draft’s top quarterback, in the second round. Third-round pick Brian Winters will likely start at left guard, and seventh-round pick Tommy Bohanon could emerge as the Jets’ starting fullback. New York also traded their fourth-round pick to New Orleans for RB Chris Ivory, who should be the feature back in the Jets’ offense. All told, including Ivory, the Jets potentially picked up six starters in the draft, making it a big success. What keeps their draft grade at a “B” is the fact that they didn’t acquire any upgrades for their receiving corps.
Upcoming season: The good news- the Jets aren’t going to be nearly as bad as everyone is making them out to be. Most importantly, they’ll have a new quarterback to lead the offense in Geno Smith, whose college numbers (71% completion percentage, 42 TDs to only 6 INTs) should give Jets fans hope after watching Mark Sanchez for the past four years. Sanchez led the NFL with 52 turnovers the past two years, and has never completed more than 56.7% of his passes in any of his four NFL seasons. The offensive line, which still features Pro Bowlers in LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold, will be better with Colon and either Winters or free-agent signee Stephen Peterman at guard, and the running game will be improved with the explosive Chris Ivory replacing Shonn Greene at running back. Greene, while sure-handed in regards to holding on to the ball, never was capable of making any big plays, nor was he able to make much of an impact as a receiver out of the backfield.
As for the defense, it will remain the strong fixture its been since Rex Ryan began coaching the Jets- and in fact, it may be even better this year than it was last year. Old, slow and/or ineffective players like ILB Bart Scott, DE Mike Devito, NT Sione Pouha, S Yeremiah Bell and OLB Bryan Thomas were all let go. The relentless Sheldon Richardson will step in at DE across from Muhammad Wilkerson, who is arguably the Jets’ best defensive player. Quinton Coples will benefit from a switch out to rush linebacker, and speedy sophomore linebacker Demario Davis will replace Scott at inside linebacker next to David Harris. Free agent OLB Antwan Barnes, who had 11 sacks in 2011, should boost the pass rush along with Coples. While Revis is gone, it cannot be overlooked that the Jets still maintained the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL last year after Revis missed the final 13 games with a torn ACL. Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie and fellow starter Kyle Wilson will both return from that defense in 2013, and will be joined by highly touted rookie CB Dee Milliner. Overall, the Jets should field a top-10 defense this year.
Now, the bad news- the Jets are still at least a year away from competing for the playoffs. The safety position is a bit of a question mark heading into the 2013 season, as Dawan Landry is the only proven veteran of the group. Starting across from him will be either Jaiquawn Jarrett, Antonio Allen or Josh Bush, who have a combined three NFL starts.
Even worse is the receiving corps. The Jets’ current crop of wide receivers and tight ends is an absolute mess. There’s no telling if TE Kellen Winslow will be able to play a full season (he hasn’t since 2011), and Jeff Cumberland isn’t exactly a game-changer at the position either. No one knows when WR Santonio Homes will be back from his foot injury. Braylon Edwards, back for his third stint with the Jets, will start in Holmes’ stead, but its unlikely he’ll be the same player for New York that he was back in 2010. Big, speedy second-year wide receiver Stephen Hill, the current No. 2 receiver, has a lot of potential, but is still learning the position, and has to overcome issues with drops. Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley is the Jets’ best option in the passing game right now. None of the other receivers (Clyde Gates, Ben Obomanu, Jordan White, Zach Rogers, Ryan Spadola) are considered much of a threat at this point. The defense will keep the Jets in a lot of games but offensive limitations, particularly in the passing game, will prove too costly in the long run this year.
Surprising defensive player: DE/OLB Quinton Coples- the Jets kept him largely under wraps last year, limiting his playing time while trying him at a variety of positions (rush linebacker, defensive end, nickel-package defensive tackle). But this year, they plan on unleashing the No. 16 pick from the 2012 draft. Despite his limited number of snaps last year, Coples still led the Jets with 5.5 sacks his rookie year. In 2013, he’ll be used as an outside rusher, mainly from the linebacker spot, and should be able to use his large size (6’6″, 285) and great athletic ability to become the pass-rushing threat the Jets need. A double-digit sack season should be in the works for the former Tar Heel.
Surprising offensive player: WR Stephen Hill- though he struggled at times as a rookie, there’s no denying that Hill has great potential. He’s got great size at 6’4″, 215 and has blazing 4.3 speed. There’s plenty of opportunity for someone to emerge as a playmaker in the Jets’ receiving corps, and it should be Hill this year. He and QB Geno Smith have shown a nice rapport in training camp, and the combination of Smith’s strong arm and Hill’s phenomenal deep speed could prove to be a consistent problem for opposing defenses this season. His issues with drops and route-running last year can be chalked up to the fact that he was just a rookie last year, and wide receiver is one of the most difficult positions to make the jump from college to the pros at. With a year of experience under his belt, Hill should start to put it all together and become a big-time, big-play threat for the Jets this season.
Final record: 6-10.
Wins: vs. Buffalo, at Tennessee, vs. Miami, vs. Oakland, at Carolina, vs. Cleveland.
Losses: vs. Tampa Bay, at New England, at Atlanta, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. New England, at Cincinnati, vs. New Orleans, at Buffalo, at Baltimore, at Miami.
Want to check out our other previews?
AFC North Preview
AFC South Preview
AFC West Preview
NFC East Preview (Coming: Monday, August 26)
NFC North Preview (Coming: Tuesday, August 27)
NFC South Preview (Coming: Wednesday, August 28)
NFC West Preview (Coming: Thursday, August 29)